NCTAF Provides Learning Studios Toolkit for Educators to Improve Curriculum Design Through Authentic, Collaborative, Project-Based Learning Experiences

Posted by on March 24, 2015 in Announcements, Featured | 0 comments


Media Contact: Karen Cheeks


NCTAF Provides Learning Studios Toolkit for Educators to Improve Curriculum Design Through Authentic, Collaborative, Project-Based Learning Experiences

Free, Online Tools Support Great Teaching, Deeper Learning & New Standards

WASHINGTON, DC – March 24, 2015 – The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) released an online toolkit today developed from its multi-year, multi-site STEM Learning Studios program. Learning Studios offered a three-pronged strategy that combined project-based learning, professional learning communities and outside content experts. The development of the Learning Studios Toolkit was supported by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

“This toolkit is designed to support educators as they work collaboratively to implement high standards for all students,” said Melinda George, President of NCTAF. “The content was developed out of our work with teachers, team leaders, and district administrators to implement the Learning Studios. The tools and case studies are drawn from the experiences of the cross-curricular Learning Studios teams of teachers and outside content experts working with students to address real-world problems.”

From 2009-2014, NCTAF ran the STEM Learning Studios program in more than 30 schools across Maryland and Virginia. The five-year program was based on NCTAF’s theory of action: “If authentic, Project-Based Learning (PBL) for students is collaboratively designed by high-functioning, multi-subject Professional Learning Communities (PLC), in partnerships with the content expertise, resources, and coaching supports of Outside Content Experts (OCE), then, students and teachers will be more engaged in excellent teaching and deeper learning.”

Specifically designed to assist district STEM curriculum coordinators, instructional coaches, and teacher team leaders, the Learning Studios Toolkit features free, online resources that are a mix of design and communication templates, reflective discussion protocols, and evaluation surveys to guide and monitor complex, interdisciplinary curriculum and assessment work.

This is especially important for educators as they are responding to the Next Generation Science Standards, which identify the science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and content that all K–12 students should master in order to prepare for success in college, 21st century careers and our increasingly global and complex world.

Teams of teachers can use the Learning Studios strategies to make NGSS connections by:

  • Engaging outside content experts to bring real world content, data, and experiences into teaching and learning;
  • Developing successful cross-curricular teams that explore the integration of subjects, such as science, technology and engineering; and
  • Integrating subject areas so that science learning is strengthened for all students.

For these tools to work optimally, teacher teams will require curricular guidance through coaching, collaborative time and routines to work together, and district systems for recruiting, building relationships, and supporting longer term external partnerships.

“The toolkit strategies are designed so that teachers can strengthen their own practice based on their current efforts, individual and collective priorities and resources. The tools were developed for improving project-based curriculum design, fostering productive teamwork in PLCs, and leveraging relationships with outside content experts,” said Elizabeth Foster, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for NCTAF. “We think there is great value in these tools because they were pilot-tested by educators and refined according to their feedback. We focused on sharing out what teachers and teams found helpful, and we hope that other educators use, adapt, and engage with all of the tools and improvement stories, and find them useful in their own schools.”

The Learning Studios Toolkit can be found at The tools are available as Google docs or as downloadable files.



The National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future (NCTAF) was founded in 1994 as a bipartisan effort to engage education policymakers and practitioners to address the entrenched national challenge of recruiting, developing, and retaining great teachers in order to ensure that all students have access to quality teaching in schools organized for success. For 20 years, NCTAF has worked to drive and inform the national dialogue about the importance of great teaching, especially in hard-to-staff schools. NCTAF’s research and recommendations inform innovations and improvements in teaching quality nationwide, focus attention on the importance of equitable distribution and retention of teachers, and promote promising practices for the development of teachers’ skills and career pathways.

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